Material Beauty - Assemblage, Appropriation and the Found Object
We have written before on the cyclical nature of fame, style and fashion where a “look” can become an abstracted representation of a cultural moment. In fine art, a comparable use of objects as cultural signposts can be found in work that addresses the notion of appropriation. By using such visual cues artists can tap into concepts of pre-established cultural significance adding deeper layers of meaning to their work. Below we look at some historical as well as contemporary artworks and instances, which address or play around with the idea of appropriation and assemblage to make a novel statement about the ways in which we use, appreciate and discard objects in our material culture.
How Do We Define Art?
Original Fountain, Marcel Duchamp, 1917, Photographed by Alfred Stieglitz Image Courtesy of WikiCommons
Marcel Duchamp is one of the best-known artists to use appropriation. The Fountain is one of the most famous works of twentieth-century art and consists of a standard urinal presented on its back, signed and dated ‘R. Mutt 1917’ by the artist. The work is one of Duchamp’s ‘readymades’ which are ordinary objects designated by the artist as works of art. The piece is labeled as conceptual art, a statement on the preconceived notions of taste as well as a humorous and absurdist challenge to the question of whether a “useful” object like a standard urinal could qualify as high art for Duchamp’s contemporary audience.
Robert Rauschenberg, Monogram, 1955-1959, 42 x 53 ¼ x 64 ½ inches Combine: oil, paper, fabric, printed paper, printed reproductions, metal, wood, rubber shoe heel, and tennis ball on canvas with oil and rubber tire on Angora goat on wood platform mounted on four casters. Image courtesy of the Robert Rauschenberg Foundation, Creative Commons License
Part of Rauschenberg’s series of ‘Combines’ made between 1954 and 1964, this well-known piece combines aspects of painting, sculpture and assemblage. Here, Rauschenberg plays with the idea of field of vision or picture plane of a traditional work of art, as well as uses pre-fabricated objects as personal visual symbols.
In the mixed media work Corona, Crash combines his iconic, signature style with neon signage featuring the classic Corona logo. The fragmented picture plane of the piece reads like a visual roadmap, combining aspects of urban street culture, commercial signage, and the indelible bond we have with familiar visual cues. Greg Miller’s utilizes a similar approach in Far As the Eye Could See, featuring a portrait of a sultry femme fatale with discarded books used as a texture and ground. While Crash’s visual narrative is more straightforward and Miller’s a more delicate exploration of the relationship between material, object, and subject, both artists build upon the history of assemblage and appropriation, playing with the idea of object as art.
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